The Democrats' Class Struggle

By Dan Balz
Saturday, May 28, 2005

This is the kind of headline Democrats have come to expect from their opponents: "Middle Class Voters Reject Democrats at the Ballot Box." But this time, the charge comes from inside the party, in a new report issued by the centrist group known as Third Way.

The study represents a slap in the face at Democrats who pride themselves on being the party of working families and a challenge to party leaders as they prepare for next year's midterm elections and the 2008 presidential race.

"Rather than being the party of the middle class, Democrats face a crisis with middle-income voters," the study argues.

"The 45% of voters who make up the middle class -- those with household incomes between $30,000 and $75,000 -- delivered healthy victories to George Bush and House Republicans in 2004."

The study is based on Third Way's analysis of 2004 exit polls. Among the five principal findings are that white middle-income voters supported President Bush by 22 percentage points. The study concluded that the "economic tipping point -- the income level above which white voters were more likely to vote Republican than Democrat -- was $23,700."

Black voters supported the presidential candidacy of Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) and House Democrats by significant margins regardless of their income levels, but white middle-class voters tended to vote more like wealthy voters. "Democrats were not competitive at all among the white middle class," according to the study.

The report also contained alarming news for Democrats about Hispanic voters. The more Hispanics move into the middle class, the less they vote Democratic.

Based on the analysis of exit polls, Kerry's margin over Bush among Hispanics with household incomes below $30,000 was 21 percentage points, but among those with incomes between $30,000 and $75,000, it was 10 points.

"Democrats talk and legislate a great deal about issues that they believe are of concern to the middle class, such as better schools, affordable health care and job security," the report concludes. "This has not translated into middle-class votes."

Show Me the Beef

This week's stem cell debate brought some great moments in American oratory.

The mixed-metaphor prize goes to Rep. David Joseph Weldon (R-Fla.), for saying, "I ask you, where is the beef? Show me the money!" The cheap shot award goes to Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark (D-Calif.), who said, "I do not need a lecture from the majority leader on moral and ethical leadership." The recipient of that barb, Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), earns honorable mention for co-opting the other side's rhetoric: "We have an opportunity today to speak truth to the power of biotechnology."

The Political Life Cycle

"We've gone from the news cycle to the spin cycle and now we're trying to get to the business cycle."

-- Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), trying to move beyond the judicial nominee standoff.

Staff writer Dana Milbank contributed to this report.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company